Simplicity and McCall’s sewing patterns, along with the other major sewing pattern brands, will likely launch a new system for digital pattern downloads in the coming months. CSS Industries, which acquired McCall’s in 2016 and Simplicity in 2017, now owns all of the major sewing pattern brands.
In February, during an earnings call, CEO Chris Munyan emphasized the company’s goal of increasing digital sales. “Our opportunities going forward is to digitize patterns,” he said. “So today we have physical patterns, in the future – not far in the future – we’re going to be selling physical patterns and a huge comprehensive list of digitized patterns, where a home sewer can take that and put that on a printer, tile it out and do the same thing they could do with a physical tissue pattern.“
Other sources close to the company have indicated they are working on a smoother, more efficient PDF pattern system than has been previously available for ordering digital versions of these patterns. A date for the roll out of the new system has not been revealed yet.
Simplicity, McCall’s, and the other major sewing pattern brands have offered digital versions of their patterns since 2006, but sewers have consistently voiced complaints about the system. After a pattern is purchased, the customer has to install a special viewer, called PrintSew, onto their computer in order to download the file. The viewer limits customers to only being able to download the patterns on one computer with a limited license of one year which includes just three downloads. Additionally, the layout of the printed pages was notoriously inefficient.
In a blog post dated January 2012 and titled, “Why I Won’t Be Using Simplicity PrintSew Patterns Again,” Erin McKean of Dress A Day detailed her frustration. “ It’s ironic that Simplicity’s tagline is ‘Creativity Made Simple!’ because there is nothing simple about this,” she writes. “Simplicity (and the other big pattern companies) needs to figure this out pronto.” Yet the system remained unchanged. A review of PrintSew on PatternReview.com written last week by user camasquilter reads, “My advice is to avoid this website at all costs. It is the worst sewing experience I have ever had.”
In the meantime, hundreds, if not thousands, of independent pattern companies have popped up, many of them offering digital patterns from the beginning. Customers of these companies have become accustomed to getting instant, unlimited access to PDFs that are laid out efficiently for a home printer. Now, after 12 years with the same PrintSew system, it looks as though the major brands will be catching up. Details of the new system, including whether it will include a limited license, are not yet available.
Origin of PrintSew
Serial entrepreneur, David Shemula, and his daughter, Margot Grabie, own PrintSew.com. In 1999 Grabie was a freshman at California State University, Northridge, majoring in early childhood education. Shemula, who immigrated to the United States from Israel in 1965, advised her to start a business so that she’d have something to work on after graduation. Grabie enjoyed sewing so Shemula bought her the URL for sewingpatterns.com and in 2001, a year before graduation, they set up the first ecommerce site to sell sewing patterns.
SewingPatterns.com carried all of the major brands – McCall’s, Butterick, KwikSew, Simplicity, Vogue, New Look, and Burda – and overtime added some smaller companies. Grabie did all of the shipping and fulfillment and they handled customer service together.
By 2006 Shemula and Grabie could see that demand was building for a digital version of the patterns they were selling. They proposed the idea to the president of McCall’s at the time. ”He was receptive, but he was concerned about file sharing,” Shemula told me during a phone call earlier this week. To assuage his concerns Shemula created LockLizard, a patented viewer the customers would need to install in order to access their pattern files. With the viewer, McCall’s could limit the customer’s license in an attempt to prevent file sharing. At first, the patterns were only available on SewingPatterns.com, but within a few years both McCall’s and Simplicity began selling the download section on their own websites with Shemula and Grabie getting a small cut of each sale.
Each season the pattern companies send Shemula their files which he then digitally chops up into 8 ½” x 11” and A4 pages before uploading them to PrintSew. In a 2015 post on her blog, Artfully Alexa, Alexa Kanarowski explains what it was like to print a PrintSew file. “I downloaded my pattern and woah. It’s three parts, and the first two parts are 56 pages. Each. The setup is so bad,” she writes. “For a printable pattern it makes sense to have the pattern go in order of pieces, so you can easily print the pieces you want.”
“They really didn’t care about conserving paper when they made this pattern into a printable pattern,” she writes. “There were multiple pieces of paper that would only have around a square inch of pattern and the rest of the paper be completely blank. I don’t think they optimized the pattern for printing at all, it seems like they left the pattern exactly the same as the tissue pattern, but just putting it on paper.” In the end, it took Kanarowski five hours to assemble the pattern.
All sales are directed to Shemula and he handles customer service, much of which he says he does from his smartphone. “I know that people are not happy about installing the viewer,” Shemula said. “But we’re so quick with the customer service.”
The design, layout, and usability of the PrintSew.com and SewingPatterns.com sites, and the LockLizard viewer, don’t seem to have been updated in many years and still have the aesthetic of the early web. There’s no direct contact information on either site, or indication of ownership leaving frustrated customers unsure whom to contact.
Shemula was unaware that CSS Industries was developing its own PDF system. He felt confident that his agreement with the sewing pattern companies was solid. “We made a verbal agreement in 2006 with the president of McCall’s,” he said. “He told me they would never pull out.”